IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Transcript: The 11th Hour with Brian Williams, 1/22/2021

Guest: Melissa Murray, Barry McCaffrey, Irwin Redlener, Baratunde Thurston, Bill Kristol

REP. RICHIE TORRES (D-NY): So that I could embark on a journey that took me from public housing in the Bronx to the House of Representatives in Washington D.C.

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Congressman Richie Torres, congratulations to you and your mother and thank you for joining us tonight.

TORRES: Always a pleasure. Take care.

O`DONNELL: Thank you. The Honorable Richie Torres gets Tonight`s Last Word. The 11th Hour with Brian Williams starts now.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Well, good evening once again, day three of the Biden administration as the President takes more steps to try to save this country, save an economy, battered by an uncontrolled pandemic, Senate Democrats tonight agreed to delay his predecessor second impeachment trial in the Senate. The article of impeachment against Donald Trump incitement of insurrection stemming from the January 6 riot at the Capitol will go to the Senate Monday night. His trial will not begin until February 9, giving lawmakers two weeks to focus on other business, like President Biden`s cabinet and agenda.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): During that period, the Senate will continue to do other business for the American people, such as cabinet nominations, and the COVID relief bill, which would provide relief for millions of Americans who were suffering during this pandemic.


WILLIAMS: Schumer added that the chamber will vote Monday on Janet Yellen`s nomination as treasury secretary. The trials delay appears to signal something of a compromise between the Senate`s two party leaders just yesterday, Mitch McConnell had proposed that the trial be left sometime in February. Well, this afternoon President Biden has tried to keep his distance from the entire impeachment subject made it clear he was in favor indeed of pushing it to next month.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The more time we have to get up and running and meet these crises, the better.


WILLIAMS: Senate Democrats will need 17 Republicans to cross the aisle to convict former President Trump something his ally Lindsey Graham thinks is unlikely.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): The post-presidential impeachment has never occurred in the history of the country for a reason that it`s unconstitutional, that it sets a bad precedent for the presidency and it continues to divide the nation.


WILLIAMS: Trump`s legal team has two weeks to get his defense together. He`ll be represented by South Carolina lawyer Butch Bowers recommended by Senator Graham. Politico writes this about Councilor Bowers` history suggests that the ex-president is keen on focusing on how votes were cast and counted during the 2020 cycle. Bower served under President George W. Bush as special counsel for voting matters in the Justice Department in another time.

And there is more news tonight about Trump`s efforts to meddle in the 2020 election, The New York Times out with a blockbuster story about Trump trying to stage a coup at the DOJ plotting with one of its officials to oust the acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, who took over for Bill Barr, and then use the department`s power to force Georgia lawmakers to overturn their results of the presidential election, a move that would have led to widespread resignations at the Justice Department and then some, as we mentioned, the current president moving ahead with his economic rescue plan signing two more executive orders that will increase aid for needy families in our country getting stimulus checks to at least 8 million eligible Americans who haven`t received them and raising pay for federal workers.


BIDEN: The crisis is only deepening. It`s not getting better it`s deepening. We cannot, will not let people go hungry. We cannot let people be evicted because of nothing they did themselves. They cannot watch people lose their jobs. And we have to act. We have to act now. We`re in a national emergency. We need to act like we`re in a national emergency. So, we`ve got to move with everything we`ve got.


WILLIAMS: If you follow the last four years, this won`t be a newsflash. Biden`s under pressure from Republicans in Congress to scale back his nearly $2 trillion relief plan. His economic adviser says right now that would be a mistake.


BRIAN DEESE, NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL DIRECTOR: Without decisive action, we risk falling into a very serious economic hole even more serious than the crisis we find ourselves in.


WILLIAMS: Meanwhile, Biden did get his choice for defense secretary. Today the U.S. Senate overwhelmingly confirmed retired Four-Star General Lloyd Austin to the public. The vote was 93 to two. It was decisive. Austin will be the first African American to lead the Pentagon.

Also, tonight there`s continuing fallout over the decision to have National Guard troops assigned to protect the inauguration to sleep in an unheated parking garage after they were booted from the Capitol building on Thursday. Today, Biden called the head of the National Guard to express his concern over what happened today.

First Lady Joe Biden visited the troops now back at the Capitol, thank them for their service and their work keeping the inauguration safe. About 7000 Guard members are expected to remain in Washington until at least March, then a drop down to about 5000.

With that, let`s bring in our leadoff guests on a Friday night, Melissa Murray, she is an NYU law professor who clerked for Sonia Sotomayor when she was on the U.S. Court of Appeals, Jonathan Lemire, White House Reporter with The Associated Press and General Barry McCaffrey, a decorated combat veteran of Vietnam, former battlefield Commander in the Persian Gulf, former Cabinet Member. He retired as a four star general in the U.S. Army.

Good evening, and welcome to you all. Jonathan Lemire, I`d like to begin with you. What is the chance that the push of impeachment into February could be a dual victory for Biden, who in the interim, can get more of his Cabinet approved? What we`re doing here every day is we`re learning more about the looting of the capital. What went into it and it`s not like Trump`s name is getting added luster each passing day.

JONATHAN LEMIRE, ASSOCIATED PRESS WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: When Mitch McConnell, Brian, first suggested a delay in the start of the trial, it raised -- eyebrows raised throughout Washington as to what the calculus there was. And now there`s been a growing belief that it`s exactly that, that by pushing it further, he recognized that each day that goes by the incident of the Capitol looks more dire, it looks more harrowing, more damaging video comes out, more creating evidence appears. And frankly, things look worse for President Trump.

So, to your force point completely right, the Biden team is relieved by this. The president himself signaled as much when asked briefly by reporters at that event at the White House today that he`d be amenable to pushing back the start of the trial because there is concern. He`s only had two members of his cabinet confirmed so far. This two-week delay now gives the Senate time to focus on that, two more weeks where they can get a number of more of his officials into their posts. It`s also two more weeks, of course, to work on the COVID-19 relief bill. We saw the president do what he can, assign executive orders inherently though those executive actions are limited. There`s -- they will not provide near the relief that that $1.9 trillion package would. So, this is more time for further negotiations, though. Certainly, the White House left the door open to signaling to Senator Majority Leader Schumer to proceed by reconciliation if they can`t get a bipartisan deal.

And then yes, we now have more evidence by the day of the President`s misconduct. An aide to former President Trump has said to me that they`ve been away, been grateful that he`s been off Twitter, as much as that frustrates the President Trump that he can`t weigh in on every event. And certainly we`ll be hearing from him a lot, if we could, if he could, but it would keep him out of trouble, the aides, the former President say but stories like this one for the New York Times tonight this blockbuster that suggests more election, interference, the border it`s staging a coup in his own government to nullify the events of the election. That`s going to weigh on Republican senators as they wait, as they decide whether to convict this president and prevent him from ever holding office again.

WILLIAMS: Professor Murray, to Jonathan`s last point, this story tonight in the New York Times is remarkable on top of weeks of remarkable journalism, you basically have Trump with this guy from the Justice Department plotting to depose, the Acting AG plotting to force Georgia to cast aside the results of a democratic election. Professor, I imagine you could ad lib right here and now a second article of impeachment, based on the facts in this story?

MELISSA MURRAY, NYU LAW PROFESSOR: Most certainly, I mean, one of the things that the insurrection at the Capitol did was it disrupted the news cycle that really had that call to Secretary of State Raffensperger in the news cycle constantly. Instead, we suddenly were talking about the insurrection without actually connecting the two events. This particular reporting brings all of it back full circle. Why was there an insurrection? What was an insurrection that was going on, as the President was also working to disrupt a duly conducted election by asking for more votes from the Secretary of State of Georgia, and then sending these rioters to the capitol for the purpose of disrupting the certification of the Electoral College.

So, this new reporting brings all of this back together and brings that former call back into the new cycle and connects it with the introduction. So, this is not great for the President. And again, as this continues to build, I think there will you`ll find more Republican senators who have to really think seriously about whether they`re going to go forward with this or break with the President.

WILLIAMS: General let spare a prayer for your good friend General Austin as he goes into his new job. Look at what he inherits. The vanity fair story today about the lack of decorum at the top of the civilian leadership of the Pentagon is mind boggling, missions and forces are going to have to be reordered, morale is going to have to be fixed. And on top of that, quite frankly, the armed forces are coming to grips with the sheer number of insurrectionists, rioters who were veterans of the armed forces?

GEN. BARRY MCCAFFREY, U.S. ARMY (RET.): Yeah, no question. I think Lloyd Austin was an absolutely brilliant move. I`ve known for years. This fellow is not only aware of every Kendrell (ph) of US national security process, but he`s also very thoughtful, quiet, cautious, and calm man. So, I think the Biden will be able to go back and focus on these disasters of the COVID pandemic and poverty and hunger in America.

But look, Brian, I don`t think the country understands yet the parallel in which we were in the last since the election 60, 90 days, if you asked a reporter or a congressman, on Tuesday, the 19th of January, who`s the Secretary of Defense? Who`s the Attorney General, who`s the Director of Homeland Security, who`s the Director of National Intelligence, I`ll bet you the majority didn`t know. We had a bunch of squirrelly characters being put into place. Because I think in the White House, they were actually talking about overthrowing the election by any means possible. It`s just a great relief to me to see this competent, good group of women and men stepping forward to try and take charge of the government. We`ve got to get him confirmed that`s going to be focused, number one.

WILLIAMS: Jonathan Lemire, here`s where you get to answer for the entire press corps. My question is about figuring out how to cover Joe Biden, the what about ism that is already in the bloodstream on what, day three of the administration following easily the most ostentatious president in American history.

The New York Times for one is getting gently barbecued tonight about a piece they wrote today, after their discovery that Joe Biden has a Rolex, worse he has a Peloton exercise bike, the piece, I think was translated from the original French written by the cast of Les Miz. This is why we can`t have nice things. The New York Times doesn`t want us to have them. When is the press corps going to settle into knowing how to cover Joe Biden as opposed to the 30,000 lies and the wreckage of norms that we`ve just witnessed for four years?

LEMIRE: Brian, I appreciate you giving me the ability to speak for the entire press corps. But I won`t quite do that. I`ll speak for myself. And perhaps my colleagues at the AP. Certainly, it`s going to be an adjustment, right? I mean, you just said it. We just we just covered four years of a president who had, shall we say, a shaky relationship with the truth. The lies came day after day after day, to the chagrin of the White House staff often, and certainly it made our job challenging. We spent a lot of time fact checking this president calling him out in his lies. Those words were used in our stories. When the President lied, we said so.

Now obviously, we`re not going to treat the new administration with kid gloves. We`re going to be objective. We`re going to do our jobs. We`re going to be focused on the facts. And we`re going to tell the story to our readers or in this case to our viewers. Certainly, there are little distractions, and there`ll be things that are pumped up in the conservative media that what about ism? You know, certainly there was, I belief of Kyron on Fox News last night that suggested that Joe Biden`s first week in office was a disaster. Mind you at that point, Joe Biden only been in office for a day and a half. So certainly, there`s going to be an attempt to try to attack the media`s coverage of this president and as president itself from those who oppose him.

Our job though, of course, is to keep the eye on the ball, to be as objective, to be fair. We`re going to ask tough questions, and the white -- new White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, to her credit, she has said in the briefing room each of the last few days, she expects tough questions. She knows that sometimes things will get contentious. But what also happened in that brief in the last two days, there was no battle from reporters, no accusations of fake news, and no declarations that reporters were the enemies of the people. That`s a refreshing start. That`s a nice change of pace. Let`s go from there.

WILLIAMS: So, Professor over to your bailiwick, and the law, no less an authority on constitutional law than Lindsey Graham said today its straight up unconstitutional to try a former president in the Senate for impeachment. What say you to that?

MURRAY: I think I have a different take on this, then Senator Graham, one of the things that has been debated over the last couple of days is whether or not there can be an impeachment trial of someone who`s already left the presidency. And most constitutional scholars who have weighed in on this, have come out in favor of yes, you can actually impeach and have a trial of a former president, because there`s no way that a system of constitutional design that would have intended for limited powers for the executive and Congress to have allowed a president to act with impunity and without accountability simply because his term of office was coming to a close.

More importantly, part of the impeachment trial is not simply the question of convicting and removing the president but the subsequent vote that Congress or the Senate may take in actually disqualifying him from serving again in public office. So, the idea that disqualification is part of this catalyst suggests that there was no constitutional design that would have contemplated allowing a former president to be completely insulated from misconduct undertaken while he was still in office.

WILLIAMS: General, you just appropriately celebrated the fact that adults are back in big jobs in Washington. And while we want to underscore that, I also want to hear you out, Democracy survived a close one. And I think as historians get 2030 years out, we`re going to be reminded how close a call this was. General, what`s the danger said this society, this country you love and have fought for the next couple weeks, months years?

MCCAFFREY: Pretty remote, you know, if you back away from this, it`s astonishing to me that this terrible man and these incompetent people we had running a government particularly in the last couple of years, we`re not able to overthrow the Constitution. The service chiefs, the chairman, the JCS, Mark Milley signed a statement to the Armed Forces saying, we swore an oath to the Constitution. The federal court system did not fail us. Republican governors like camp of Georgia stood up to attempts to force an illegal move by the president of United States. I think and the media never backed off this guy. And so, the American people heard the truth about what was going on.

I think we ought to have, in many ways, renewed confidence. The only thing we got to remember is when you elect a politician, start with character, and then go on to the other attributes. And we unfortunately had a guy in office who had no character.

WILLIAMS: Let`s end on that quote for a Friday night with our thanks to Jonathan Lemire, Professor Melissa Murray, retired General Barry McCaffrey, greatly appreciate after the week, we have witnessed the three of you staying up with us tonight.

Coming up, it`s a good night to have a doctor standing by as well. We have one and we`ll get the latest on the vaccine crisis. And those new strains we keep hearing about when we come back.

And later, as has been mentioned, it`s been a week. Consider this Donald Trump was the president three days ago. We`ll talk to two experts about the extraordinary challenges facing the new guy as the 11th Hour is just getting started on this Friday night.



GOV. JARED POLIS (D-CO): We`re getting every dose out. We just need a lot more to truly in the pandemic.

GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D-NY): We still have not received enough supply just to do 1a and 1b.

GOV. PHIL MURPHY (D-NJ): Our problem right now is dose supply.


WILLIAMS: Nationwide, hospitals, local officials, governors, as you`ve just heard, say vaccine shortages are hindering our efforts to curb the epidemic. Tonight, there are some signs of improvement. CDC just recorded a record day of vaccinations over 1.5 million shots in a single day, still, fewer than 1 percent of our population has been vaccinated. There`s also more stress to ramp up vaccination efforts as UK`s prime minister announces the more contagious coronavirus variants may also be more lethal. That gets your attention.

Back with us tonight, Dr. Irwin Redlener, Founding Director of the Columbia University National Center for Disaster Preparedness. Doctor, it is great to see you again. Subject matter continues to be horrifying. What is your level of concerns at what you know of these new strains?

DR. IRWIN REDLENER, EXPERT ON PANDEMIC INFLUENZA: Yeah, so Brian, hi. The new strains are, you know, very worrisome. There`s at least three new strains is probably many, many more than that, that we haven`t identified yet. The one out of the UK, South Africa and Brazil, and probably as I say more behind the scenes here. The problem is all of these three are much more contagious than the original strain. So far, they have not proven to be resistant to the vaccine, but we don`t know how long that lack of resistance is going to lag.

But here`s the thing, Brian, the more we have rapid spread and the more strains are mutating, the more we`ll have to worry about that, you know, nightmare scenario where the vaccine seemed to be effective against these strains. But we have to watch these very closely and we mostly have to get as many people as possible vaccinated rapidly and there`s so darn many barriers and many more barriers if we imagine, you know, I was among the na‹ve, Brian, who thought that so Trump leaves and then here`s comes Biden and then we`re good to go. But no, every day, whether it`s about the economy, whether it`s about anything else that we`re dealing with, and especially the COVID vaccine, we were finding out more and more horror stories about the inadequacy of the Trump administration in dealing with this pandemic, Brian.

WILLIAMS: I was a little bit concerned to hear the CDC say and I`m going to paraphrase this that in a pinch, you can mix brands, you can get a first shot with one brand of the vaccine, second shot with another in a pinch, you can go upwards of six weeks between shot 1 and shot 2. And we need experts like you to tell people that`s in a pinch, that is not the way we prefer it, is that correct?

REDLENER: Right and it`s certainly not a formal announcement by the CDC. There are experts including in the -- at the CDC that are saying we might be able to end your comment about in a pinch is exactly correct. And I think we just have to be very careful. And we need to the extent possible, do the two shots from the same vaccine at the same, at the interval that`s supposed to be the safest. If we do anything else, Brian, we have to go back to the CDC and the FDA and have everything reviewed again. So yes, in a pinch, but don`t count on it, Brian.

WILLIAMS: I want to play for you some comments from Dr. Fauci was Rachel Maddow earlier this evening, we`ll discuss on the other side.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: I don`t want to get ahead of them. But I have to tell you, I would be surprised if it was any more than two weeks from now that the data will be analyzed, and decisions would be made.


WILLIAMS: He was talking about the Johnson and Johnson developed vaccine huge advantage is, it`s one shot. So that`s better when you`re trying to inoculate the South Bronx, that`s better when you`re trying to inoculate an extremely rural population in the middle of Wyoming. So, we have to pin our hopes, Doctor, on this coming true in two or three weeks, do we not?

REDLENER: Yeah, a couple of things about that and first of all, the Johnson, Johnson vaccine will probably not need the frigid temperatures that Moderna and certainly Pfizer needs. And the other thing is that may not be as effective. So, it may be the 65, 70 percent range effective, say as opposed to Pfizer and Moderna, which are both up in the 94, 95 percent effective. So, you know it, there`s a tradeoff here. But the fact of the matter is, I think we`ll have probably at least one more even after the J&J shot. So, the more we have, the better it`s going to be and the faster we`ll get everybody immunized up to this so called herd immunity level that we really do need.

WILLIAMS: Let me toss you the last 30 seconds you describe yourself as naive earlier, I`m not buying it for a second, but can we say that you are instantly more feeling better about the future, at minimum because there`s new management and new determination in place that must make you a more optimistic man?

REDLENER: Yeah, absolutely, Brian, you know, the Biden team have put on a - - put an unbelievably talented team of people on the field now that is dwarfing what we`re seeing from Donald Trump. And we had good people there too. Fauci was there himself and others, but it was so disorganized, it was so undermined by President Trump that we`re seeing an entirely different, different world right now. And yes, I`m thrilled. I`m excited. And I think we have a real shot at getting that 100 million doses in the first 100 days of the administration. And this is what we`re looking forward to.

WILLIAMS: It is so great to see Dr. Fauci not need permission to form words on live television and speak to a jittery American public. Dr. Irwin Redlener, thank you so much as always for coming on the broadcast and taking our questions.

Coming up for us, what we were all watching exactly a year ago today, that we get to watch all over again, in just a couple of weeks. We`ll talk about it next.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President believed that former President Trump should be convicted.

JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, he`s no longer in the Senate. And he believes that it`s up to the Senate and Congress to determine how they will hold the former president accountable and what the mechanics and timeline of that process will be.


WILLIAMS: In addition to considering the fact that Donald Trump was president three days ago, consider this. Exactly one year ago today, House Democrats we`re wrapping up day one of opening arguments in Donald Trump`s first impeachment trial.

Tonight, we learned Trump`s second impeachment trial. We`ll start the week of February 8, because it`s never too late to try for impeachment. And just like one year ago, the stakes are high.

Back with us tonight to discuss Baratunde Thurston, author, activist, comedian, former producer for The Daily Show with Trevor Noah. He is these days the host of the podcast How to Citizen and because I`m allowed a point of personal privilege, do yourself a favor, watch his TED Talks, watch his standup comedy wherever you get your video, they will both stay with you for a good long time.

We`re also joined by another old friend tonight, Bill Kristol, the author, writer, thinker and political veteran of the Reagan and Bush administration`s back in the old days. These days, the editor-at-large over at the Bulwark gentlemen, good evening, and welcome to you both.

Bill, you wrote the following on Twitter tonight, and I lit up when I saw it. Based on the new news this evening of a little attempted coup at the DOJ and the attempt to overturn the Georgia election results you right, we should all be alarmed that Trump may walk away from all this from his attempt as president to overturn the election without a Senate conviction of high crimes and misdemeanors and disqualification for future office.

Bill, what`s the real chance if you were a betting man that Mitch McConnell is going to vote to convict, what`s the real chance in this Senate that you know, well, that you`re going to find 17 to say yes?

BILL KRISTOL, THE BULWARK EDITOR-AT-LARGE: It`s not great, but I think it`s not tiny. You know, what, and for wonder five, I think Mitch McConnell wants to have Donald Trump convicted and wants to vote that way himself. I doubt if he will, unless he feels he can take enough other Republicans to get to 67.

And I think he`s seeing some resistance and the Trump people are whipping up resistance and threatening other Republicans that, you know, they`ll have no future in the party. McConnell is probably his last term. And I think he and I know this, he`s been an extremely effective leader of the Republican Party in the Senate, he`ll go down in history is very effective partisan leader, Republican leader, but he`s a he also, I think, would like to get out on the history books as a statesman.

And if he voted to convict, you know, for people like me, McConnell has been far, far too accommodating of Trump. But if he voted to convict here and explained that we have to hold the president accountable and that this is intolerable. I think that would change the image of McConnell history books. I think he knows that whether you can take other Republican senators with him, I don`t know.

WILLIAMS: We could have a new category in the history books of nihilist statesman. I`ll talk to history book writers about that in the coming weeks.

Baratunde, I`m anxious to gauge your level of optimism, knowing the work that Joe Biden is facing. And we made the point last night I don`t think a president since FDR has taken over at a time when we were so low. You also know that an impeachment trial is on the docket. Can you do both?

BARATUNDE THURSTON, AUTHOR AND ACTIVIST: Yes, we can. And we must, Brian. And first I want to thank you, as always for bringing me back in this of all weeks, the transition week where we made it to the other side, and in celebration, enjoy. I`m wearing a tuxedo jacket in honor of all the inaugural balls, no one got to go to this week.

So, I`m partying at home with America. We have to be able to create the space to move forward as a nation, and where the Republican Party is divided in their loyalty to the nation versus a man to democracy versus authoritarianism. The American people are united in seeking some accountability, and justice for all that those are the lines right liberty, and justice for all.

We need liberty. We need the freedom to return to our lives. We need to clamp down on this pandemic. We also need justice to hold people accountable so that we don`t repeat these mistakes in the future.

WILLIAMS: Bill Kristol I want to play for you. Someone you know this is Steve Schmidt with Nicole Wallace today talking about the Republican Party and what it might look like say in two years.


STEVE SCHMIDT, FMR. MCCAIN CAMPAIGN CHIEF STRATEGIST: As we move into the primaries, age 22 what side will be ascended the vestigial Republican side that tried to go along to get along or the QAnon coalition of Marjorie Taylor Greene, who will win these primaries? I think the autocratic side is going to steamroll the vestigial, pro-democracy wing of the Republican Party.


WILLIAMS: Bill Kristol he makes a good point. GOP has a member of Congress now who`s a full on QAnon person thinks 911 was an inside job. Thinks Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school shooting was staged. What is the definition of the Republican Party right now or are there several?

KRISTOL: There are several but unfortunately the largest right now I think is Trump loyalists. And part of that Trump loyalist faction is true conspiracy theorists and Kooks and extremists who have not been repudiated. For me, that`s the huge thing. You cannot have a serious political party responsible party to tolerate this on the extremes. You need to draw some lines.

Otherwise, I think Steve Schmidt is right, the extreme start to gobble up the right wing and the right wing starts to gobble up the center. And you end up with a party that`s terrified of its most extreme members. And that`s really what we`ve had in this.

I mean, that vote on January 6, you know, you the capitalist storm, we see what happens. And then 140, 135 House Republicans a clear majority of them vote to overturn the election results in Arizona and Pennsylvania based on nothing, based on nothing.

I mean, what does that say about that point, as I said it was different Senate Republicans is a little more hope. The senators are different from members of the House, but the members of the House are the ones who are in touch with the grassroots. So that`s one reason I`ve been pessimistic, but we need to try to fight that fight a little bit more because it`s not healthy for the country to have a Republican Party that has been given up to extremism and authoritarianism.

WILLIAMS: Republican leader in the house first in line to take that vote. Both of these gentlemen have agreed to stay with us as we fit in a break. Coming up though, remembering an eventful and historic week. What it could mean for our future near and far.



JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Today on this January day, my whole soul is in this, bringing America together uniting our people, uniting our nation. And I asked every American to join me in this cause.


WILLIAMS: A reminder that the new president`s very first address to the nation was a call for unity and our deeply divided country. Yet his predecessor refused to greet him at the White House on Inauguration Day. The very basic level of decency he was incapable of until the end, opting to flee Washington early in the morning for his home in Florida instead, where he`s got this going for him, he now becomes the only twice impeached private citizen in the state of Florida.

Still with us, Baratunde Thurston and Bill Kristol. Baratunde, what moment or moments from Inauguration Day will you carry with you say in the years to come?

THURSTON: The highlight is just basic democracy, Brian, you know, to connect with what we were talking about earlier, we did have a transfer of power. And that was despite the heavy efforts of a majority of a major one of two political parties who are committed to non-democracy. And so the fact that this happened was amazing, and a beautiful highlight.

Amanda Gorman was an amazing and beautiful highlight who spoke poetically and prophetically about our nation`s history and its possible future. Of course, the memes of Bernie were an amazing highlight that distracted all of us for more than 128 hours straight now, in terms of my own personal timeline in association with this.

And I have to give credit to President Biden, who did the most basic, decent, small d democratic thing the night before his inauguration, when he hosted a memorial service on the reflecting pool, and invited all of us to reflect for about 15 minutes on the 400 plus thousand Americans who would not be able to witness this moment of democracy, because they`re no longer with us because of COVID.

And it was elegant and graceful, and human and deeply, beautifully American. And it`s the bare minimum. And the fact that I`m so excited about it is a sign of the size of the transition we`re taking from a non- president to a president from the brink of non-democracy back into democracy.

WILLIAMS: The bare minimum think about it our first moment of national memorial and reflection, no pun intended, where the death toll is now north of 400,000. Our president has warned us we`re looking at 500,000 by the end of February, simply remarkable, and yet it took the bare minimum or would have from his predecessor.

Bill Kristol, new polling out today. Eight percent of the American people supported the looting and rioting in the Capitol. Eight percent we`ve been raised to think is a tiny number. No. When you stop and think about, for example, for comparison, we`ve inoculated less than 1 percent of the U.S. population. Eight percent of the U.S. population is a big number, a troubling number.

Bill, in your view, how close did we come? Michael Beschloss is fond of saying that democracy survived a close call? Do you agree?

KRISTOL: Oh, absolutely. If Donald Trump had been reelected, I think, who knows where we would be, but that is behavior post losing the election. And what did you lose? Well, I really have 25,000 votes in three states and switched. A lot of other things have gone different ways. It would be different.

So no, no, it was a close call. We`re not out of the woods by any means. I mean, a large chunk of one party is not the link to repudiate what was done, what happened, what was done in their name, what they enabled and helped to, which has committed a serious threat to overturn the most fundamental aspects of our democracy.

So, there will be challenges ahead, the culture, the society, our politics, are all somewhat broken, made much worse, I would say, by the four years of Trump. They were preexisting problems, obviously. And so, there`s an awful lot of work to be done.

So, I totally agree that I mean, President Biden has been excellent in tone. I think the country parts a -- large part of the country is pulled together, and they will continue to pull together. People really that it`s the time to rise to the occasion, and it will remain a time to ask all of us actually to rise to the occasion in all of our different spheres and do our duty because it`s not we`re not we`re not -- we didn`t -- it was a nearly -- it was a near run thing. And near escape, but we haven`t fully escaped, you know, and so the task remains ahead.

WILLIAMS: Cathartic to hear from you both after the week we`ve had. To both of our guests, Bill Kristol, our thanks, Baratunde, really appreciate the tux jacket business up top. Party down below.

KRISTOL: Fantastic. How come you never told me.

WILLIAMS: I know next time we`ll give you the courtesy, but we got to check in with Baratunde as I tried to do at least once a week.

THURSTONL Thank you.

WILLIAMS: Coming up for us, back to job one for the new president that would be controlling an uncontrolled pandemic and a reminder, he wanted this job after 60 years of government service.


WILLIAMS: As we`ve been tracking here for you want to know it`s tough to watch health officials are now increasingly concerned about coronavirus variants, these new strains and how much they could set us back. And there`s more news on this front tonight, our chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel brings us more on why the U.K. variants spreading in the U.S. is raising even more alarm.


RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): We already knew the U.K. strain has evolved to be about 50 percent more contagious than the original virus, the ease of transmission helping it spread around the world. It`s expected to become dominant in the U.S. by March, according to the CDC.

Cases rising today in New York. What we didn`t know British officials announced tonight, the mutant strain may also be more deadly.

BORIS JOHNSON, U.K. PRIME MINISTER: The new variant, the variant that was first identified in London and the southeast may be associated with a higher degree of mortality.

SIR PATRICK VALLANCE, U.K. GOVERNMENT CHIEF SCIENTIFIC ADIVSER: There is evidence that there`s an increased risk for those who have the new variant compared to the old virus. Now that evidence is not yet strong. It`s a series of different bits of information that come together to support that.

ENGEL: Just yesterday, the scientist who discovered another variant in South Africa, told us that strain could evade antibodies.

DR. RICHARD LESSELLS, SOUTH AFRICA INFECIOUS DISEASE SPECIALIST: And if we don`t do a good enough job at controlling the spread of the virus, the virus will naturally evolve.

ENGEL (on camera): How many variants are out there now? Real variants that we should be aware of?

LESSELLS: Probably just in the time that we`ve been talking probably there`s a new one popped up somewhere, somewhere today.

ENGLE: Health officials here remain convinced that the current vaccines still do work against the U.K. variant as it is now. But this virus is changing, and other strains are still being studied. Richard Engel, NBC News, London.


WILLIAMS: And coming up for us remembering elegance, grit greatness, as so many of us did today.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Here`s the pitch by downing, swinging. There`s the drive in the left side of the field. That ball is going to be out of here. It`s done. It`s 7-15. There`s a new home run champion of all time. And it`s Henry Aaron.


WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go tonight, that was the shot heard round the world and let`s talk about the man we lost today. Number 44, Henry Aaron, born in Mobile, Alabama. While his life`s dream was to become an airline pilot, he discovered baseball at 14 and never looked back.

He started in the Negro Leagues a team with a downright insulting name. The Indianapolis Clowns. They were barnstormers who combined baseball with unserious entertainment but when Henry`s hero Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in the major leagues, Henry was on his way. He played in the bigs for 23 seasons.

To this day, he holds the lifetime record for total basis, and RBIs. Everything he did, he did in the face of systemic racism. He played despite bottles and booze raining down on him on the field. In the early days, he couldn`t use the same changing facilities or stay in the same hotel as his teammates. Never bitter, always resilient. He did admit years later that racism carved a piece of his heart away.

In the spring of 74 came the record people thought would never be broken, Babe Ruth 714 home runs. So it was on an April night in the fourth inning and a light rain with millions of us watching and cheering at home. Number 715 sailed over the billboard for BankAmericard, by the way, which later became Visa that`s how long ago it was.

Aaron went on to hit 755 of them and while Barry Bonds broke that record, he did so with performance help. Unlike Henry Aaron, who relied on grit, talent and lightning fast bat speed. Hammer and Hank positively strolled into the Hall of Fame only Ty Cobb have more first ballot votes. He was a magnificent ambassador for baseball for that matter for the city of Atlanta. Because he was elegant in life, he was graceful and stood for class.

I was 15 on that April night in 1974. As my dad and I watched my hero hit number 715. If you`re lucky in life, your heroes never let you down. Henry Aaron never did. And if we`re all really lucky our heroes go to heaven. It`s why I`m reasonably certain. Hank Aaron is tonight reunited with all the people he loved, perhaps meeting some of his own heroes. He made life so much better during his time with us down here on Earth.

That`s our broadcast for this Friday night at the end of a history making weaken our country. Thanks for being with us for all or part of it. Have a good weekend unless you have other plans. On behalf of all the men and women at the networks of NBC News, good night.